“…and your name among the angels.”

Today is a hard day. A very dear friend of mine is being buried today. He should not be. He was still young. He retired after 20+ years as a peace officer. He has 11 children and 2 grandchildren. His youngest child is 8 years old. We have know him for over 20 years, as he was just starting the academy when we met him. I am in shock. I find it so hard to believe this man, who was larger than life, is gone. He was funny. He was so well informed. He told the most amazing stories. We laughed and laughed with him. We camped with them. We went hunting. We ran our English Springers together. We traveled up and down California with our kids and dogs crammed into our SUVs. We shared the same wedding anniversary. We attended Church together. We broke bread countless times together. We prayed together. He and his wife honored us when they asked us to be godparents to lucky #7.

Chris and Pam

There are so many wonderful stories I could share with you. So much fun designing ideas for the yard and the house. He was so creative and he would come up with these zany ideas. He’d rush out and get all the stuff for it, start it, and say, “That’s gonna look great!” and he’d have satisfied his creativity! LOL! Drove me nuts. One day I came over and he yells, “Jan – Jan, you have to come look at the bathroom! It’s DONE!” He was so proud! LOL. I just hugged him and we both laughed. It looked, of course, amazing.

One time we went dove hunting and Chris decided to make “chicken nuggets” out of the doves. He was an amazing cook. So he’s cooking these little doves and placing them on a platter on the picnic table. We adults were sitting around watching, having an adult beverage, and chatting. The kids kept running through the camp and each time, they’d grab a “nugget.” Chris couldn’t figure out where they were all going, because each time he’d turn around to place more completed nuggets on the table, the platter would be empty. Then he yells at the kids, “Those are the most expensive nuggets you will ever eat. Slow down!” Then he goes on to give us calculations of all the costs – hunting license, guns, ammo, gas to get there, hunting dogs and all their gear, camping gear costs, our SUVs and tents, etc, etc, etc. He surmised that driving through McDonald’s would have been far more cost effective, even with all those kids to feed – his and ours. LOL. He was so fun. We have some hilarious memories of hunting and running our dogs. Our eldest son had two funny episodes where in one, he shot the backside off a pheasant. So funny. Another one where he asked if this snake was poisonous and before Chris could finish telling him it was a harmless king snake, it was blown to bits. My son still recalls those times with fondness.

Pam and Chris

Chris taught our youngest son to drive a stick shift in his old army jeep. My son treasures that memory. He said Chris was so patient – each time he’d stall out, he would just explain what happened, and they’d start again. He never got mad, but would laugh. Our son and godson learned together and that was so cool.

We homeschooled our kids and we spent many an evening over long dinners and barbecues, discussing curriculum, our faith, and what we were doing with all these children the Lord blessed us with. He was a strong Catholic and would not waiver one iota from his faith. He was one of the most honest men I have known. When Chris told you something, you could take it to the bank. I trusted him with my life, and the life of my children. If I was in danger and my husband was not around, I could call Chris and he’d be there in a minute. He was one of the good guys. He and Pam had an amazing life together, accomplishing more than most couples do. Chris had a small plane and they would offer to fly us wherever we wanted to go. My kids took him up on it, but I am a big chicken. I do not like to fly, let alone in a little plane. I trusted Chris as a pilot, implicitly, but my unease is the whole height thing. I even hate driving up into mountains (I know – irony, since I live in amongst them here in Alaska). Chris and Pam were going to come up this summer and he wanted to see Alaska by air. Another dear friend, who was a pilot, relocated to Idaho last summer. As I was helping them pack, I saw stacks of flight maps and books on flying in Alaska. I immediately thought of Chris. I asked if I could take them for my friend and they gave me the entire box. One of the biggest regrets I have in life is that box is still in my garage. I had kept it because they were coming up and I was just going to give them to him. And now he will never see them. And it breaks my heart when I walk into the garage and see those books and maps. Don’t put things off. You simply never know what tomorrow will hold.

The Family

The family will never be the same. Chris has left a gigantic hole in their hearts. It is hitting me like a ton of bricks and we were just friends. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I would not want to be in their shoes. But Chris planted strong seeds in his children, imbuing them with character and a love for family, and for others. They are good people because their father was present and he cared and he shared his thoughts, his morals, and his faith with each of them. It will be hard, but their mom is a resilient woman, one of the strongest ones I know, and she will carry on their legacy for Chris. She has a beautiful heart and her kids and grandkids will know it even more in the days and years ahead.

I was supposed to fly down there for the funeral today. And honestly, I just could not do it. I don’t do well at funerals. I have been known to pass out and actually throw up. I spent the funeral of my husband’s grandfather laying on a pew in the Church hall, throwing up in a trash can. My mother-in-law was not happy with me. My sons were the altar boys. My husband served on the altar. And I was not able to do it. I attended the burial, where I bawled like a baby, because I loved that man. And I was completely fine by the reception. But for Chris, I just could not walk into that Church and see him like that. I feel like I am letting down my friend, but my heart is honestly broken. A total blessing is that Pam and most of the kids are coming up here this summer, just like we had talked about, to get some stress relief, change of scenery, and to visit one of God’s greatest creations – Alaska. The chaos of the kids will accompany Pam; it’s a part of being a mother to 11 kids and grandma to 2 (and counting). But I think the act of getting away will be good for them – and for us. She and I can sit and gab for hours. The last time she and I went to lunch, just the two of us, we sat and gabbed for over 5 hours. My son actually called me and asked if I was coming home for dinner. Ha-Ha-Ha, how the tables have turned!

Me and Pam

And today I am really a wreck. Crying off and on, thinking of the steps Pam and the kids are walking right now. Feeling like I should be there and I am not. My heart breaking for the loss of a really good man, and dear friend of more than two decades. I think he will leave a hole in my heart forever. Chris occupied a special place in the hearts of all who knew him, most especially his wife and children.

In the eastern Church, we like to say, “May your memory be eternal, and your name among the angels.” It is such a beautiful tradition. It comes from the fact that in pre-Christian, Old Testament times, the Jewish people would shun those who had done wrong. They would remove their names from histories and landmarks. The person would be removed from memory. And in contrast, the early Christian communities would celebrate the life of those who had passed away and were a part of their community. They would invoke passages from the Psalms and the promises of Christ. And one tradition is that they believed the angels themselves would whisper the name of the loved one around the throne of God, and that their memory would never fade. And that is what I wish for my friend – that his memory will stay alive and his name be on the tongues of the angels, themselves. So Chris, may your memory be eternal and your name among the angels. God speed, my friend. You are loved and you are missed.

Chris telling me another hilarious story!!


My head hurts…

I recall life before computers, before the internet, before every single person carried a phone, 24/7. I recall life before blue light dangers. I recall life before automated everything. Who writes checks anymore? Who carries cash? Very, very few of us. I also recall life before the onslaught of information. The information highway. My head hurts.

Today I was busy putting away some staples in my pantry. I am obsessed with glass. I slowly got rid of plastic and teflon from my life. Now I open containers and dump everything into glass jars. You know, oats and chicken stock mix (organic of course! LOL!), and seasonings, and cereals. Everything from yeast to ground flour, to my soaked and dehydrated grains, all reside in glass containers. During our last 5-point-something earthquake, nothing moved. Whew. But I like the idea of uniform storage and being organized. A friend said I am getting a little obsessed with organizing everything. But in this world of noise and chaos and way too much information, being able to control something (like my pantry) gives me peace. Solace. Quiet. Neat = quiet in my book. So I am obsessing about neat because I can control neat. Kinda.

Our new stove

We are making some changes around here. We chose to remove our natural gas, built-in, fireplace and go with a wood stove. A free-standing wood stove. We are very excited. But you know how it is, there are ideas and then there is reality. We have to make that transition happen. My head hurts. Again. I am learning more than I ever wanted to know, nor thought I needed to know, about wood stoves. The one thing I did get that both of us agreed upon, was the enamel was brown and shiny, and not flat black. I liked the look of the brown. However, we also have to gouge a big hole in our living room wall, and remove our gas insert. Then we have to create an elevated surround, and then we get to have the stove installed. Installers just install. They don’t do “bricks and sticks,” which is a term I just learned. They just hook it all up. In other words, we get to use the hammers and yank out the walls and then we get to create a stone fireplace surround for this stove to sit in. Once it is how we want it, the installers install. That is all. So now, we get to research fire-safe surrounds, designs, materials we need, and how much time this will take, let alone cost. Sigh. It is never simple. All we want is simple and quiet and closer to the earth.

We have this….
We want this….

So now starts the transformation of our home from typical tract house in Alaska, to an Alaskan home. Removing the sort of details that make no sense in the land of snow, mud, and sunshine. Like what? White carpeting is first on my list. Who does that? And our new, independent of the gas company, wood stove. It can heat the whole house – easily. And I am excited to make the house a little more country. A little less mainstream or civilized. It is amazing to me how much is involved in detaching from the world.

Dream greenhouse idea…

As soon as this ridiculous amount of snow melts, it is on to the greenhouse. I have been struck so hard with the fact that we have roughly 90 days to grow a year’s worth of vegetables to store. And here in Alaska, pretty much everyone has a greenhouse. WIth -20 degrees on St. Patrick’s Day, and at least 6 feet of snow firmly sitting on top of everything, Spring is pretty elusive. I have discovered we have to meticulously plan gardens. Organize seeds. Prepare a place to grow them indoors, to later transplant to a protected greenhouse, and then into raised beds. It is a lot of work and it is done mostly while snow is still on the ground. I now even have a Garden Journal. It is so pretty and I am already filling out parts of it. The plans part. The reality part comes as the season progresses. And I know we will learn a lot. We are surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, who also have a lot more knowledge of how to do all of this, so that makes me very happy. I have experts all over the place. I took a “bread braids” class last night, while hubby attended “Layers 101” about chickens! LOL. Who would have thought??

Ideas of how to self-sustain on 1 acre of land.

We would like to be self-sustaining, and less connected. Up here, we are at the literal end of the supply chain from the lower 48 states. And with Canada having its temper-tantrums and closing ports and making truck shipping just ugly, having empty shelves at the grocery store is no joke. So we are re-thinking how we use our yard and what we do with our space. Being simple is so complex. There are so many moving parts. My head hurts. Still. This old California girl is learning how to be an Alaskan. It means throwing off so many things; leaving ideas and ways of living behind, and adopting new and different ideas. I mean, I now have 25 pound tubs of grains in my pantry. I have a dehydrator and grinding mill on my kitchen counters. I make my breads from, quite literally, scratch. I am learning about lecithin and gluten and how to remove the acids from grains so they are more bio-available. I am learning about organic. That is a master’s degree in and of itself! I learned about using vinegar with the “mother.” Who knew?

Kolbe and his hedgehog…with no stuffing left…so cute

When the chaos and onslaught of information gets to me, I try and pet my dog, or have a cup of “Dandy Blend” – because amongst all these things, we gave up coffee and sugar and soda. Sigh. LOL. Dandy Blend is a tasty alternative to coffee and it’s working for me. I also use organic honey and oat milk in it. Oat milk! Some days I don’t recognize myself. LOL. My cupboard now contains boxes and boxes of herbal teas in all flavors. I am no longer using milk. I am shying away from anything in a package or a box. I shop mostly the outside of the store, if I even shop at the store. We try to source local for all our needs, which can be a challenge. Picking up my farm co-op order in freezing, blowing snow, meeting at the local grocery store parking lot for the hand-off! LOL! Never in a million years did I think I would get my meat from the farmer out the back of a truck. Fresh eggs. Carrots right out of the ground. Yet, here I am!! I’m trying to be a better me; a me who knows nutritionally which thing to place on my plate and which to avoid. It is all about a lot of habits that need undoing, a lot of relearning that needs to happen, and a lot of deep breaths. Because truly, all this information does create its own headache. It really does. Today, the sun is bright and the snow is sparkling (because it is so cold) and I am overwhelmed. I had the beginnings of a migraine last night at the bread class, and it is trying to sneak itself back in my life today as I made spaghetti sauce from scratch and baked a loaf of bread. So I am going to be kind to myself, watch an episode of Time Team on Prime, have a hot cup of Madagascar Vanilla tea, and maybe even take a nap. That’s what I think of all the information knocking on the door of my brain. There is always tomorrow.